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Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30

Related Artists/Companies

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Upcoming Performances

Image from National Symphony Orchestra: Krzysztof Urbanski, conductor: Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 / Daniil Trifonov, piano, plays Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 National Symphony Orchestra: Krzysztof Urbanski, conductor: Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 / Daniil Trifonov, piano, plays Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 - Apr. 2 - 4, 2015
Young piano sensation Daniil Trifonov reveals his "scintillating technique and virtuosic flair" (New York Times) in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3. Conductor Krzysztof Urbanski also leads Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10.

Past Performances

Image unvailable for National Symphony Orchestra: Leonard Slatkin, conductor/Lang Lang, piano National Symphony Orchestra: Leonard Slatkin, conductor/Lang Lang, piano - Oct. 2 - 4, 2003

Image from National Symphony Orchestra: Ilan Volkov, conductor/Leif Ove Andsnes, piano, plays Rachmaninoff National Symphony Orchestra: Ilan Volkov, conductor/Leif Ove Andsnes, piano, plays Rachmaninoff - Jan. 15 - 17, 2009

About the Work

Sergei Rachmaninoff
Quick Look Composer: Sergei Rachmaninoff
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Leonard Slatkin, conductor/Lang Lang, piano Oct. 2 - 4, 2003
© Richard Freed
Rachmaninoff completed his Third Concerto in 1909 and played the solo part in the work’s premiere, with Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Symphony Orchestra, on November 28 of that year. Jorge Bolet was the soloist in the National Symphony Orchestra’s first performance of the Concerto, with Howard Mitchell conducting, on February 15, 1950; the most recent ones, with Mikhail Pletnev as soloist and Leonard Slatkin conducting, were given in Amsterdam on May 12 and Berlin on May 16, during the orchestra’s 2002 European tour.

In addition to the solo piano, the score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, and strings. Duration, 46 minutes.

Rachmaninoff’s first American tour, which began in the fall of 1909, introduced him in all three facets of his career: he toured with the Boston Symphony Orchestra as both pianist and conductor, he conducted his orchestral works in Chicago and Philadelphia, and gave numerous recitals in which he played his compositions for piano. The new work he brought with him, composed especially for that tour, was his Third Concerto, which he not only introduced with Walter Damrosch and his New York Symphony Orchestra in November, but played again in the same city two months later with the Philharmonic under Gustav Mahler, whose intense preparation left a deep and lasting impression on him. In later years Rachmaninoff declared the Third his favorite among his own concertos, but he also came to the point of phasing it out of his performing repertory because he felt that certain other pianists were more effective in the work.

The Third Concerto is an extremely demanding piece for the soloist. Rachmaninoff dedicated the score to Josef Hofmann, a lifelong friend whom he was not alone in regarding as the greatest pianist of his time. Hofmann, however, never played the work, and it was the young Vladimir Horowitz who became closely identified with it. Horowitz chose this challenging concerto for his graduation performance at the Kiev Conservatory in 1920, and played it frequently when he began his professional career. He met Rachmaninoff as soon as he arrived in America, in 1928, and the composer suggested some cuts and other modifications which he felt would make the piece an even stronger vehicle for his young colleague. It was Horowitz who made the premiere recording of it, a year or two later with Albert Coates and the London Symphony Orchestra, with the cuts and modifications Rachmaninoff had made for him. Toward the end of another decade, a broadcast performance by Walter Gieseking in 1939 strengthened Rachmaninoff’s feeling that he should leave the work in other hands than his own. Although he did make his own recording of the Concerto that very year, with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, he never again performed the work on the concert stage.

The performance Rachmaninoff recorded with Ormandy also observed the cuts he had made for Horowitz, and, with the double precedent thus provided, that version was favored by pianists for years. In the last 30 years or so, however, as conductors began restoring the cuts in Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, more and more pianists decided to restore those made in the Third Concerto as well, and it is the original uncut version that is performed in the present concerts.

The opening theme, according to Rachmaninoff, “simply wrote itself.” The second theme, following unhurried transformations of the first, appears as a full-blown lyric outpouring and then assumes a march character. On these materials Rachmaninoff builds a movement remarkable at once for its intricacy and its apparent spontaneity.

“Intermezzo” is the heading for the second movement, but it is a far more expansive episode (or series of episodes) than that title might suggest. A lovely, nostalgic introduction by the strings, with the theme given out by the oboe, expands dramatically before the entrance of the piano, which then takes the lead in a reflective nocturne and builds to a climax of considerable power. In the contrasting second section, a sort of scherzo in waltz time, the clarinet and bassoon give out a variant of the first-movement theme behind the piano’s filigree ornamentation.

The second movement leads without pause into the third, a glittering, mercurial piece, for the most part nervous and marchlike, but with lyric contrasts again based on material from the first movement. The sheer drive of this finale is in sharp contrast to what has gone before. The awesome coda begins with a cadence somewhat reminiscent of the corresponding section of Brahms’s Violin Concerto and the piano part at this point may suggest Liszt in his richest vein; the soaring strings and the brass-dominated exultation, however, are wholly characteristic of Rachmaninoff himself.